Attempting to define the influence Maison Margiela has had on the fashion industry comes as a tremendous task. Nor is it possible to imagine brands such as Vetements, Raf Simons and Rick Owens existing today if the house’s founder, Martin Margiela, hadn’t opened the doors of his atelier in 1988. 
Many norms that occupy contemporary fashion were unconsciously pioneered by Margiela. Whether it be garment deconstruction, fabric upcycling or staging fashion shows in unconventional locations – one of his most memorable being a neglected children’s playground on the outskirts of Paris in 1989 – Margiela did it first.
After spending two decades as fashion’s ballsiest disrupter, Martin Margiela retired from fashion in 2008, leaving his eponymous label in the hands of Italian entrepreneur Renzo Rosso, who had bought the brand six years earlier in 2002. Upon winning a Belgian Fashion Award in 2018, Margiela explained in a letter: “I felt that I could not cope any more with the worldwide increasing pressure and the overgrowing demands of trade. I also regretted the overdose of information carried by social media, destroying the ‘thrill of wait’ and cancelling every effect of surprise, which was so fundamental for me.”
The brand today is headed by John Galliano – another notoriously controversial figure in fashion – who builds his collections on the foundations Martin Margiela left behind. Slashed, unfinished hemlines, bold shapes and the cloven-footed Tabi boot – all Martin Margiela signifiers – are the pillars of Galliano’s collections for the house. Since taking the helm at Margiela in 2014, Galliano has since adopted an elusiveness when dealing with the press like that of his predecessor.
To this day, the house’s founder is yet to be professionally photographed, and the very rare occasion that he gives an interview to a newspaper or magazine publication, it has always been done via email or fax. Even in ‘Martin Margiela: In His Own Words’, the 2019 documentary – where for the first time we hear Margiela speak of the ups-and-downs of his trailblazing career – his face never appears on camera. In an industry built on image, where cultural juggernauts like Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, or Kim Jones at Dior, have come to define fashion of the now, Martin Margiela’s mystique is even more enticing; driving forward the appeal surrounding both him and his former brand.
A creative genius, though a man of very little words: the legacy of Maison Martin Margiela is left to be told by those who were there, and a new generation of artists, writers, curators, collectors and designers who have been shaped by the work of this creative enigma. Here’s what they have to say.


Willy Ndatira

With an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things fashion, art and culture, Willy Ndatira – AKA Willy Cult – is a creative consultant, designer and podcast host who has worked with Gucci, AnOther Man and Fantastic Man, where he is currently Consulting Editor.
When did you first get introduced to Maison Margiela? What drew you to the brand?    
“I was 20 or 21 in design school. I couldn’t afford the clothes back then but I liked the way Martin Margiela and the team designed and presented their work. They were very skilled and were imaginative. The clothes had a laid-back elegance. They elevated everyday objects, second hand garments and vintage clothes into something interesting.”         
What is your standout Margiela moment? 

“All the shows and look books are great but the fake tabloid newspaper was one of the best in my mind because it was a comment on the late 90s obsession with celebrity culture. The 20th anniversary show is a must see on YouTube. It was for Spring Summer 2009 and the band DEUS played live. It’s basically a kind of retrospective of his past collections.”            
Do you own any Margiela pieces?

“I have moved multiple times and lost things. I still have a pair of painted boots somewhere in storage. I recently bought a pair of Tabi slippers in black leather. My favourite items from the past were a denim jacket which was inside out and painted jeans which felt like leather pants. I was in San Francisco when his collaboration with H&M dropped. I bought a faceless watch, which I thought was a great commentary on the fact that nobody tells the time by looking at their watch. We look at our phones. Today if you buy a watch it’s more as a jewellery piece.”             
How do you think John Galliano's vision for the house compares to that of its founder, Martin Margiela? 

“I don’t like comparing designers. But they are both geniuses in their own way and are leaving a great legacy behind. I did enjoy the house when Matthieu Blazy was the head designer. I do like the winter coats and suits Galliano has been designing. And the fashion films he has been making with Nick Knight to present his collections during the lockdown. They’re really brilliant, people should check them out on”   
What influence do you think Margiela has on the industry today?

“We wouldn’t have Demna Gvasalia’s Vetements and Balenciaga without Margiela. He paved the way for designers who subvert or are inspired by the street and everyday objects or clothes. Martin Margiela’s collections are filled with great ideas waiting to be reinterpreted for the 21st century. Similarly to Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, whom I love. They are both “designer’s designers”, meaning that other designers find inspiration in their work.”       
What do you think the brand's legacy is? 

“How to design or work with complex concepts without being complicated. When you watch a documentary about Martin Margiela, all his ideas were either personal (based on his life’s journey) or he was problem solving. He created a universe which we still want to buy into. And he had a wicked sense of humour in his approach to fashion design. It will be interesting to see what happens now that he is going into art.”


Alexandre Samson

As a curator and fashion historian at Palais Galliera, Alexandre Samson was the brains behind ‘Margiela Galliera 1989-2009’ in 2018; the first French retrospective dedicated to Margiela.

What is your standout Margiela collection?
“The Stockman collection (SS97): steps and studies of clothes, common vocabulary of designers and couturiers since the 19th century, are worn as real clothes, showing the essence of fashion itself.”
Do you own any Margiela pieces? 
“I have original Tabi boots in black leather, offered by my best friend. I'm still wearing them to challenge myself to dare.”
How do you think John Galliano's vision for the house compares to that of its founder, Martin Margiela?
“John Galliano is one of the greatest designers since the late 80s. His approach on deconstructing clothes, first experienced at Dior, is now fully operational for Maison Margiela, enriched with his unique taste for baroque.”
How was the experience working with Martin Margiela whilst curating ‘Margiela / Galliera, 1989-2009’?
“Our collaboration was, from the beginning, a discussion at every step – where we shared ideas all together. He’s a dream to work with. I’m lucky.”
If you could own any Margiela piece from the brand's archive, which would it be?
“Lately, I dreamed about an oversized black pre-destroyed knit turtle neck pullover from FW2000. It's an obsession I can't explain.”
What influence do you think Margiela has on the industry today?
“Martin Margiela is one of the rare contemporary creators to fully question the fashion system, from its conception (using all that fashion has always hidden: linings, manufacturing processes), to its presentation (by nonstandard shows) through its uses. His influence in fashion was immediate."

What do you think the brand's legacy is?
“About independence and freedom in creativity.”

Inge Grognard 

An industry renowned make-up artist who today works for brands such as Givenchy and Balenciaga, as well as publications Vogue Italia and AnOther, Inge Grognard worked on every Margiela show from 1988 to 2010.

When did you first get introduced to Maison Margiela?  

“Martin is a friend from when I was 14, so a long time before he started his house.”
Do you still own any Margiela pieces?
“I gave almost 100 pieces to the MOMU in a long loan but kept a few jackets and coats, also the Tabi boots from the first collection, and yes, I still wear them.”
How would you describe working with Martin Margiela on those early shows?

“It was about friendship, trust and freedom.”
What was your wildest memory from working on a Margiela show?
“The first was quite chaotic for me, working in small dark spaces, I didn't have an overview because all my assistants were in different places. But at the end when we finished, I was happy.”
What influence do you think Margiela has on the industry today?
“A huge one, his vision on clothes; to recuperate existing pieces, stamped with the original date; to make new clothes out of old pieces; his proportions.”
What do you think the brand's legacy is?

“For me, he wrote history in fashion like the big ones before.”

Kristina de Coninck

Similarly to Inge Grognard, Kristina de Coninck was instrumental to the Margiela early years, becoming one of the brand’s synonymous models and ultimately muse for the brand. For AW17, she made her return to the catwalk, this time for Margiela’s Belgian contemporary – and Antwerp Six member – Dries Van Noten.
When did you first get introduced to Maison Margiela?
“Inge Grognard and Ronald Stoops introduced me to them at the end of the eighties.”
What was it like walking a Margiela show?
“Always exciting, entering Martin's world is a thrill! Total look Maison Martin Margiela, dressed by hem, that is pure happiness!”
What is your standout moment modelling for Margiela?
The confetti, the patchouli, the rose petals, the music, how to describe modelling for Martin? One word: magic. No need to say that the clothes and accessories are so adorable. I loved the show where he painted my legs with gold paint though!”
Do you own any Margiela pieces?

An apron in 'drap de laine' (wool fabric), I chose that one after the show because I love the simplest MMM pieces. I still wear it with a t-shirt. A little cotton top from the 'Terrain Vague' is a piece that I cherish because just looking at it gives me a good feeling. One of my favourite pieces is a long brown skirt in cotton, made out of pants! He made that skirt in a [miniature] version for Barbie, combined with a tiny leather jacket!”
How do you think John Galliano's vision for the house compares to that of its founder, Martin Margiela?
“John Galiano brings his own personality to the Maison Margiela house, I think he respects Martin Margiela in his own way of course. Each person is unique.”
If you could own any Margiela piece from the brand's archive, which would it be and why?
“I would love to own the tattoo sleeves, then I can take them everywhere with me in my purse”
What influence do you think Margiela has on the industry today?
“He stimulates creativity.”

Luis Ruiz

A growing Margiela collector, Luis Ruiz – AKA @mmmarchives on Instagram – has pieces dating back all the way to the late nineties.
When did you first get introduced to Maison Margiela?
“I was introduced by my fashion professor who was just casually telling small details about Margiela. And curiously sparked in me to do more research on my own.”
What is your standout Margiela collection?
“To me, the most significant collection has to be SS 1990 for many reasons. The location of the venue was perfect. Rather than hosting his show in a grand hall, he had the runway held near a kids’ playground. Margiela also asked the kids for help to create the invitations. Having the kids be front row and the press in the back was just a powerful move. The clothing was executed amazingly and certain garments were also showcasing his early use of recycling older materials.”
When did you start collecting?
“I came across an original 1992 Margiela painted denim jacket and a skirt for sale for $100 and immediately I knew it was worth something. I met up with the person who owned it in Houston Texas, it was in perfect condition. The set had been my first pieces for my collection. My professor convinced me to not sell the set and to keep it as a start to my collection.”
How do you think John Galliano's vision for the house compares to that of its founder, Martin Margiela?
“John Galliano has given the house of Margiela a new modern, while still keeping Martin Margiela’s presence.”
If you could own any Margiela piece from the brand's archive, which would it be and why?
“The number one piece I love more than anything is the reconstructed glove top from 2001 in white. The concept and the construction of the garment was executed perfectly; it is definitely museum worthy.”
What influence do you think Margiela has on the industry today?

“Today Margiela’s most known thing is the Tabi boot. The tabi boot has been relevant ever since it was first showcased in 1989. I don’t see the Tabi going away anytime soon.”

Ronald Stoops

Seminal photographer Ronald Stoops captured the bustling creative scene in Antwerp throughout the nineties, photographing the work of Margiela both on the catwalk and on the streets. He is married to Inge Grognard.
When did you first get introduced to Maison Margiela? 
“I met him at the Academy of Antwerp, in that period I was modelling for some students.”
What is your standout Margiela collection?
“The first one with the red footsteps [SS89]. It was much more than only fashion. It was new, arty and conceptual. New kind of models (streetcasting), heavy, trashy make up. I photographed those moments but unfortunately a lot of the negatives got lost.”
Do you still own any Margiela pieces?

“Yes, I do. I never bought a piece because I was paid with pieces for my pictures. I still have jackets and sweaters. All pieces are timeless.”
How was the experience shooting the Margiela community back in the day?
“I was free, we understood each other and spoke the same language. My wife [Inge Grognard] was one of his best friends, that made things also easier. There was never a commercial thought behind the pictures.”
What was your wildest memory from working on a Margiela show?
“Everything about his first show.”
What influence do you think Margiela has on the industry today?
“He wrote history in fashion and his way of recycling is nowadays a very important issue in fashion.”

Words & Interview by: Paul Toner
Artwork & Design by: Henry Spiers
Special thanks to Willy Ndatira, Alexandre Samson, Inge Grognard, Kristina de Coninck, Luiz Ruiz & Ronald Stoops

The latest collection of Maison Margiela is available in-store and online now.